Apparently if you rent a computer from some retailers, you may be getting (or giving away) much more than you thought in the bargain. As computer forensics investigators, we are always watching for information about how bad guys can get into people’s lives on the sly. With computers the security loopholes are everywhere.

So this article written by John E. Dunn at Techworld didn’t shock or surprise me. What I see escalating is the number of articles popping up in the mainstream media about computer spyware detectors and spyware removal. In most all of them, they now mention computer forensic services.

As an aside, International Investigators was one of the first to offer computer forensic services when no one really understood what a computer hacking forensic investigator was or why his services would be needed. Now people on the street understand what a computer forensic specialist is and with all the technology changes over the last 10 years, know that it takes a computer forensic expert to solve some problems like spyware detection and spyware removal.

Anyway, back to the article. It appears that some retailers were installing a program called PC Rental Agent on computers that had been leased out to customers. The purpose of PC Rental Agent was to keep track of the computers and to automatically turn them off should the customer not return them. However, some humans in the retailer’s employ discovered they could also pull information including logging keystrokes (gathering passwords and login information), recording personal data (from emails and other files) and even taking webcam photos of, shall we say, private activities.

There were complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) who investigated and uncovered the practice. The retailers in question were outed and are now closely monitored by the FTC. The article said that the software is licensed to “more than 1,617 U.S., Canadian and Australian stores and ended up installed on 420,000 PCs worldwide.”

Computer forensic analysis is not an easy DIY project for a weekend afternoon. It requires highly specialized equipment and knowledge. This is especially true if the computer forensics electronic discovery uncovers illegal activity that will be handled in a court of law. The protocol to protect the integrity of the evidence is very strict and a certified computer examiner follows a set procedure which ends up with his being a computer forensic expert witness in court regarding both the protocol and the evidence uncovered.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that spyware removal is just deleting an accidental download of a file, but an installed spyware could be just a few lines of code on your computer. It is much more involved. Because we can tell you for sure that what gets deleted on the computer isn’t really deleted in most cases – it’s just buried deeper and deeper. That’s why a computer forensic specialist is needed.

-T. Wilcox, CEO, International Investigators